Among all of the other important factors that cattle producers need to consider for running a smooth and successful production business, one most important factor is how the animals are being fed. The nutritional benefits of beef are dependent on the way cows are fed. In the present age, mostly cattle are grain-fed whereas in earlier times the cattle used to eat grass while roaming free.
The nutrients in cattle beef vary and it depends on what the cows eat. In countries where there is mass-production of beef, such as the United States, farmers usually feed grain to the cattle. The way cows are being fed can make differences to their consumers’ health.
The Difference Between Grass-Fed and Grain-Fed Beef
The calves, after their birth, drink milk from the mothers and they roam free in the fields to eat edible plants and grass. This practice usually continues for about 8 to 9 months and after that, they are moved to feedlots. Feedlots that are larger in size are known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and these are where the cows are kept in stalls within the limited spaces.
They get fat rapidly because they are given grain-based feed made from corn or soy-based. Dried grass is also supplemented in their diet. And after living in these feedlots, the cows are sent or brought to slaughterhouses. It is not that simple as it sounds as feeding practices are varied and complicated. Such as the grass-fed beef of the U.S cannot be compared to the grass-fed beef of Australia. And it is not necessary that all grass-fed cows are able to graze outdoors.
Grass-fed cows eat grass as their feed whereas grain-fed cows mostly have soy and corn-based diet. Drugs such and growth hormones and antibiotics are also given to cows in order to maximize and boost the growth process.
The cows that are grass-fed depend on pastures as their source of food for their entire lives. Cattle producers who want to use the label ‘grass-fed’ are required to provide evidence that their animals are grass-fed and they also have to document the agricultural process they use.
Grain-fed cattle are sent to market after 15 months of their life whereas grass-fed cattle take more time to grow and mature. They are sent to the market after about 22 to 24 months.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Grain-Fed VS. Grass-Fed
Cows that live in a natural environment and eat what is considered as their natural diet are healthier and happier. They roam free and are more active. A well-maintained farm plays an essential role in this case as the cows living in feedlots can also be grass-fed.
Organic and grass-fed cattle beef is expensive more than grain-fed cattle beef because these cattle take longer to mature and occupy more space. This is more like adults living with their parents without paying rent as these cows can cost a lot to the farmers.
Grass-fed beef can be found in prices close to those of grain-fed beef if bought in bulk.
The meat’s taste depends on what the cow eats. The diet of cattle creates a major impact on the flavor of the meat. Analyses by laboratories can easily tell the difference between numbers of compounds in the taste profile of the cattle.
Grain-fed beef is more tender than grass-fed. Tenderness of the meat depends on how long the cattle eat grain. The same is the case with fat. Grain-fed cattle is more fattened and so it offers more fat and marbling. Whereas, organic, also known as grass-fed beef, is not as fat as grain-fed beef.
Vitamins and Minerals
The nutritional profile of the cattle depends on what they eat. Grass-fed beef is rich in nutrition as compared to grain-fed beef. Red meat has a greater amount of nutrients. But as fat stores many nutrients, grain-fed beef can also benefit the consumers in a number of ways.
Cows that are raised properly create less negative effects on the environment. Cows that roam freely and graze on different lands increase the soil’s carbon carrying capacity. They can minimize the emission of greenhouse gasses through their grazing and protect the environment from potential harm.
For the improvement of flavor and maximize the growth of grain-fed cattle are given antibiotics. Feeding the cattle an unnatural diet raises the acidity in them, this combined with other unhealthy farm practices where the cattle are being raised, will not be good for meat consumers.
Farmers make use of hormones to increase the size of their cows and make the growth process faster than the usual. These hormones can be fed to both grass-fed and grain-fed cows.
Beef contains a very low level of hormones as compared to other sources of food. However, it is true that grain-fed cows contain more hormones than grass-fed cows.
Grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef environment
When it comes to a healthier environment, grass-fed cows are the winners as these cows graze freely and through their grazing, they increase the soil’s capacity of carbon-carrying making the soil more fertile and suitable for plantation.
Grass-fed vs. grain-fed milk
Milk quality is the same in all types of cows when it comes to vitamin D, calcium, and protein. But science shows that milk of grass-fed cows has an added advantage of nutrition and is a good source of healthy fat.
Grass-fed vs. grain-fed butter
Butter obtained from grass-fed cows contains a greater level of CLA as compared to the butter obtained from grain-fed cows. Grass-fed cows win in this area as well. As their butter is rich in Vitamin K2 and Omega-3 fatty acids making it more nutritious and healthier.
Grass-fed vs. grain-fed keto
On diets like keto, caloric control is an essential aspect. Grass-fed beef contains healthy fats, minerals, vitamins, and is leaner. Therefore, people who are following such a diet should prefer grass-fed beef over grain-fed.
Disadvantages of grass-fed beef
- Expensive: Grass-fed beef is more expensive than any regular beef. It is because grass-fed cows take longer to grow and mature hence require extra efforts by the farmers before sent to slaughterhouses. They are also smaller as compared to grain-fed cows which means the will give less meat.
- Less-healthier: The debate is on-going. There is still no evidence that can prove that grass-fed beef is entirely healthy as compared to conventional beef.
- Harmful for the environment: There are some arguments that state the grass-fed beef is not healthier for the environment. Scientists at the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan stated that 1kg of beef causes a greater level of greenhouse gases than 155 miles of driving.
Grass-fed beef benefits
- Healthier: It has less fat, a greater level of Omega-3 fatty acids that are good for the heart. It also contains linoleic acid and antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin E.
- Benefits of the Animals: Feeding grains to the cattle will cause stomach issues in them. If the stomach issues are terrible for humans, they can be bad for animals too.
- Good for the environment: Grazing can eliminate wooly plants and keep the land hospitable to grass.
Grain-fed beef is more tender and rich in flavor as compared to grass-fed beef. It offers more marbling and fat. Grain-fed cattle offer more meat as they grow more than their natural growth and are large in sizes. They mature faster than the grass-fed beef and require less effort to deal with before sent to slaughterhouses.
Grass-fed beef benefits research
Researches done in the past three decades have suggested that grass-fed beef has a greater level of fatty acids and antioxidants. Diets based on grass increase the level of linoleic acid and isomers in the beef. This researches also say that grass-fed beef has antioxidants that fight against cancer and is rich in vitamin E and A.